Artifact Spotlight

Artifact Spotlight

Welcome to our artifact spotlight selections. Beginning in June 2014 students, staff, faculty, and fellows at the Lab chose an artifact to share on the website. If you would like to nominate an object as your favorite, email us and tell us what it is and why it is your favorite.

Future artifact spotlights will be posted on our blog, The Dirt!

Summer 2019

The Negative

April Sievert, Director

I spotted this pot-sherd as our curation assistant, Hannah Ballard (IU’18), was inventorying our ‘type’ collection of ceramics from Angel Mounds, the 13th century town on the Ohio River near Evansville. 

The piece, from the broad rim of a large plate, boasts a signature decorating technique—negative painting. Potters at Angel Mounds made plates of clay tempered with fine pieces of shell, and applied multiple layers of slip or pigment to create designs around the rim in black, red and buff-clay colors.

While I’m used to seeing painted sherds with crossed-circle and geometric designs, this was the first time I’d actually seen one of the two sherds from Angel that sport a bi-lobed arrow/bowstring motif. The red arrow shows through a layer of black. The motif is a very special one for Mississippian people, seen far and wide across the Mississippi Valley and Southeast. Finding the design at Angel Mounds underscores how far afield people of Angel communicated.

Seeing this design reminded me of another Mississippian collection that I documented for the Smithsonian Institution’s Repatriation Office nearly 30 years ago. That site is Spiro, located along the Arkansas River in far eastern Oklahoma. Spiro was infamously looted in the 1930s, and later excavated as part of the Works Projects Administration, just like Angel. At Spiro, the motif had been carved into the outsides of whelk shells that hail from the Gulf of Mexico. Bi-lobed designs also show up also on hair ornaments, rock art, and rendered in native copper spread far across the Southeast.  

But what does the motif mean? Association with the bow and arrow seems pretty clear, with a possibility that the lobes reflect back to the atlatl, or spear thrower. It could also be indirectly reflective of a traditional Siouan culture hero known as Redhorn, or ‘he who gets hit with deer lungs’. Professor Robert Hall was an Indigenous symbolic archaeologist from Wisconsin, and one of my graduate mentors, who had made this connection. Could the two lobes in the design harken back to an image of deer lungs attached to a trachea? We can’t really know for sure, but it is clear is that ancient Indigenous people along the Ohio engaged in a system of ceremony, communication, and artistry that far exceeds the confines of an agricultural site in the central Ohio Valley.

Historic Photos/Women in Archaeology

Glenn Black Lab Staff

Over the past few years, our digital collections assistant, Bailey Foust, has been busy digitizing the Glenn Black Lab's historic image collections. A number of staff at the lab, including Bailey, Kelsey Grimm, Alex Elliott, Hannah Rea, and Melody Pope have used these images to curate our first exhibit dedicated to the history and roles of women in archaeology. Photos are currently displayed in the lobby of the Glenn Black Laboratory and are also presented online in the Women in Archaeology digital exhibit.

To see more historic images documenting the history of archaeology in Indiana and the work of the Glenn Black Lab, please visit our collections on Indiana University's Image Collections Online

An image of women in archaeology working on a dig

December 2016

Bat Effigy Gorget

Hannah Ryker, Student Volunteer

This Bat Effigy Gorget was found in Floyd County, Indiana in 1907. It is part of a large collection of Native American artifacts that was originally owned by Thomas A. Hendricks.

This collection was eventually acquired by Eli Lilly and donated to the Glenn Black Lab. Gorgets were worn around the neck and typically have two holes through which a cord would be threaded. The holes were generally made by a narrow, pointed object such as another stone, which would be moved in a drilling motion against the gorget. The holes in this particular gorget show wear from the cord used to attach it to the neck.

April 2016

Nowlin Mound Survey, 1934 - 1935

Jennifer St.Germain, GBL Collections Manager

The Glenn Black Laboratory also houses a small collection of 16mm films. Several reels capturing Glenn Black's 1934-1935 excavation of Nowlin Mound, an Adena culture site in Dearborn County, have recently been digitized and made available online for the first time. These are thought to be among the earliest films of professional archaeologists conducting field work in North America.

The short clip below depicts Glenn Black, wife Ida Black, William Rude, Bernard Bucher, and Joseph Schulyer setting up camp and conducting surveys at the site.

Nowlin Mound archaeological survey and excavations, 1934-1935.

Description of the video:

This film has no audio file associated with it. Shows brief scenes of Glenn Black, Ida Black, and other crew members surveying and setting up camp for excavations of Nowlin Mound, Dearborn County, Indiana.

The scene transitions to a panoramic shot of angel mound in an open grassy field. Glenn Black, Ida Black, and other crew members begin using measuring tools and digging equipment on the side of the angel mound.

Crew members are depicted doing various acitivities in service of researching the angel mound - including marking measurements and data, cleaning procedures such as regularly washing their hands, and taking breaks in a nearby camp setup for the dig.

January 2016

Baked Clay Objects

Melody Pope, GBL Curator of Collections

This month our artifact spotlight is on baked clay objects, so-called Poverty Point Objects (PPOs), which take their name from the Poverty Point site in northeastern Louisiana where large numbers of these various shaped clay objects have been found.

Beginning around 3500 years ago, Poverty Point and other related terminal Late Archaic mound complex sites were constructed in the lower Mississippi valley and Gulf Coast. While the nature of Poverty Point and related sites, which were occupied over several centuries, still eludes archaeologists, there is no mistaking the unique material culture of their inhabitants. Small animal figures made from materials like galena and jasper that originated in distant places, incised hematite plummets, copper beads, and the ubiquitous if enigmatic baked clay objects are common at Poverty Point and related sites. The uses to which these various stone and clay items were put, perhaps as amulets or fetishes used in both ritual and mundane contexts, are the subject of much archaeological debate. One interpretation is that the baked clay objects were used for cooking, and their occurrence in large numbers in cooking pits suggests a feasting context.

Earlier this month, Dr. Christopher Hays, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin, Washington County, visited the GBL to examine a small collection of baked clay objects from the Kelly Farm site (12Cl1). Located along the Ohio River in Clark County, Indiana, Kelly Farm is one of several sites known as the “Clarksville sites” first recorded in 1873 by the Indiana Geological Survey. Ohio Valley sites like Kelly Farm and the Murphy site in Posey County represent the northernmost localities where baked clay objects have been found outside of the Lower Mississippi Valley. The Ohio Valley region was also a source locality for gray Wyandotte chert, a valued material for making spear points by people at this time.

The Kelly Farm baked clay objects featured in our spotlight this month were found eroding from a bank in 1950 by local residents Urban and Peter Hale of Clarksville, Indiana. The Hale brothers reported 100 or more fired clay balls, found together in what may have been a “cache.” This important and unique find was brought to the attention of Glenn Black and Frances Martin in 1951, who subsequently informed their colleagues, Phillip Phillips and William Haag, who were at the time working in the lower Mississippi Valley at Poverty Point and the related Jaketown site, in Mississippi. Both Phillips and Haag donated small comparative collections of baked clay objects from Poverty Point and Jaketown to Glenn Black, who at this time was affiliated with Indiana University. An account of the Kelly Farm baked clay objects was presented to the Indiana Academy of Sciences in 1951 by Frances Martin, an abstract of which appeared in the Academy’s Proceedings. We are pleased to put the spotlight on the Kelly Farm baked clay objects and are excited that they are once again the subject of important scholarly research in Eastern Woodlands archaeology.

Fall 2015

Squirrel Pipe

Cailey Mullins, IU Undergraduate Student & GBL Collections Volunteer

This unique effigy pipe was collected by Glenn Black himself, somewhere near Greensburg, Indiana. Carved of steatite, the pipe depicts a tiny squirrel feasting on an acorn. The squirrel would have faced the smoker of the pipe, with its tail toward the bowl. Little is known about the pipe's age or cultural association because of the way it was collected - all we know is that it was picked up somewhere near Greensburg and given to what would become the Glenn Black Lab in 1942.

August 2015

Wild Cat Effigy Pipe

Jennifer Dubeansky, IU Doctoral Student & GBL Collections Volunteer

This pipe featuring a wild cat effigy was found in Floyd County in southern Indiana by a private collector sometime in the late 19th or early 20th century. It was part of a collection, including arrowheads and other pipes, purchased by Eli Lilly and donated to the Glenn Black Lab in 1931. Beyond very general information about its discovery, little is known of the piece. Because it had been removed from its find site independent of any other artifacts, little can be determined in terms of its date, meaning or specific use. It was a situation that Eli Lilly, himself an avid collector, would grow to see as a problem.

What began as a hobby for Lilly in the late 1920s matured into a much more scientific undertaking. He came to see the artifacts not only as objects in their own right, but as a part of a larger quest to understand the people who made and used them. This new outlook led Lilly to cease buying from any dealer unable to provide site and dig information for an artifact. He turned instead to helping build an institutional base for the study of prehistoric people in Indiana. He purchased and donated many of the earliest collections found at the Glenn Black Lab. In addition to funding many of the state’s early archaeological efforts, Lilly developed one of the first bibliographies on Indiana archaeology, collaborated with the fledgling archaeology section at the Indiana Historical Society, and worked to develop a chronology and taxonomies for the people who lived here. As he put it in a letter to a friend, he had “gone archaeology.”

An image of the artifact "Wild Cat Effigy Pipe"

June 2015

Copper Deer Effigy Headdress

Jennifer St.GermainCollections Assistant

This headdress is one of the more unique artifacts in the GBL’s collections. Along with the ears, the deer effigy would have been completed by adding a set of antlers to the two holes seen near the front of the headdress (see replica below). The antlers used may have been real, but could also have been created from wood, copper, or some other type of material.

This artifact was originally discovered by an amateur archaeologist sometime in the early 1900s. Although there is little detail or documentation to provide provenience information for this piece, it seems to have been collected near the Mann Site in Posey County. This Middle Woodland (100 CE – 500 CE) site sits near the confluence of the Wabash and Ohio rivers and features a series of geometric earthworks, mounds, and an extensive habitation area. Although nearby contemporaneous settlements belong to the Crab Orchard culture, the Mann Site features some exotic materials and unusual artifacts that are more closely associated with the Hopewell tradition. The Hopewell culture flourished along rivers in Ohio and other parts of eastern North America during this time period. Similar copper headdresses have been found in other Hopewell sites, most notably in the Mound City group in Ross County, Ohio.

As copper sources are rarely found in the area of the Ohio River valley, the material needed to create this headdress would have come from a great distance, most likely from a region near Lake Superior. The difficulty of acquiring copper along with the rarity of this type of object suggests it would have been a valuable and significant piece. It would likely have been worn for ceremonial purposes, either by an individual with high status or someone with an important leadership role in the community.

This piece came to the GBL as part of the Laval Collection, donated to us by Evansville College in 1960. Otto Laval was an amateur archaeologist who explored and collected extensively in Posey County in the early 1900s. A 1939 newspaper article in our archives provides some addition background on Mr. Laval. He describes that his interest in archaeology developed after his doctor had prescribed walking and outdoor activity as a way to improve his health. Laval and his wife began finding and collecting artifacts on their many excursions, and they both went on to become members of the Southwestern Indiana Historical Society. Otto Laval eventually acquired and donated to the college a collection of over 5000 individual artifacts. The article also mentions Laval finding this copper headdress, a piece he often described as one of his most prized possessions.

An image of the copper headdress replica shown with other pieces from the Laval Collection.

May 2015

Mastodon Mandible

Caroline Bedwell, GBL Collections Volunteer

Due to its incredible size, it might seem like this jawbone belonged to some ferocious predator. However, this is not the mandible of a dinosaur or ferocious meat-eater. This is the mandible of an American mastodon, Mammut americanum, a prehistoric herbivore that fed mainly on leaves, bushes, and grasses.A distant relative of the modern elephant, mastodons roamed North and Central America from the late Miocene epoch (10 million years ago) until the end of the last ice age during the Pleistocene epoch (11,000 years ago).

These massive creatures were hunted by Clovis Paleoindian peoples using spears made with sophisticated stone points. Clovis peoples lived in small, mobile groups that could quickly pack up and move to follow available food sources. While a mastodon would provide an enormous amount of food and other useful materials, these large kills did not happen regularly. Clovis peoples most likely depended on gathered plants and smaller game for their day-to-day food supply.

Evidence of Paleoindian groups can be found near water sources like creeks and rivers where they collected chert, a kind of stone well- suited for tool-making. Paleoindian stone points have been found in nearly every county in Indiana. Many examples of these points are housed and studied here at the Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology.

After the ice age ended, creatures like the mastodon became extinct because they were unsuited to the warming climate. Climate change affected the people of that time as well. The Paleoindian peoples that hunted the mastodon were able to live off of a smaller amount of land due to the new abundance of plant and animal life, and a highly mobile lifestyle was no longer necessary.

An image showing the size and scale of a mastodon compared to an average man.

April 2015

Sarah-Margaret Wilson, GBL Library Volunteer

This is a hunting license, signed by Meriwether Lewis, allowing a Mr. R. Crooks and company to hunt on the land "watered by the Missouri and Columbia rivers," specifically to the North, East, and West of the point where the Ohio River empties into the Missouri/Mississippi River system. The license was signed in June of 1809 in St. Louis where Governor Lewis resided. Lewis became governor of the Louisiana Territory in 1807, a year after returning from his expedition with William Clark, and died about four months after the signing of this hunting license in October of 1809. The license itself was found in a file containing evidence used by the U.S. government in the Indian Claims Commission trials of the 1950s, perhaps to represent ownership and usage of this particular tract of land. Not much else is known about the document at this time.

An image of the "Meriwether Lewis Document"

February/March 2015

Human Effigy Vessel

Meghan Buchanan, GBL Research Scientist

This vessel is a female effigy bottle from the McGuire/Lilly Collection. McGuire was an artifact collector and dealer who sold numerous stone tools, bannerstones, ceramic vessels, and other objects to Eli Lilly in the 1930s.

Mr. McGuire was from Campbell, Missouri and most of the artifacts he sold to Mr. Lilly have clear connections with the PreColumbian archaeological traditions from southeast Missouri and northeastern Arkansas.

In many ways, this vessel is similar to other female effigy bottles found in Mississippian Period (post A.D. 1200) contexts; she has skeletal, desiccated features exposed (clavicles, arms, rib cage, vertebral column), her eyes are slit and mouth slightly open, and she is kneeling with her feet tucked under her body. But each female effigy bottle has unique qualities. Some are holding infants; some have extended stomachs (pregnant?); some may be painted with tattoos or depicted wearing cloaks/cloth wraps; some have their skeletal features emphasized. Archaeologists and art historians have interpreted these bottles as depictions of a powerful female deity known variously as Earth Mother, Cloud Woman, Our Grandmother, First Woman, or Old-Woman-Who-Never-Dies. Many indigenous groups in the Southeast and Great Plains believe that this deity gave birth to several other supernatural beings, is the mother of human and plant life, and is responsible for the regenerative powers of the earth (i.e. fertility). When lives were taken to the Below World by the Great Serpent, Earth Mother would retrieve souls from the realm of the dead so that they could be reborn. The skeletal appearance of Earth Mother in the form of effigy bottles may be directly referencing those times when she descends into the realm of the dead, taking on the appearance of death herself.

I chose this vessel from the McGuire/Lilly Collection because of the unusual incised lines surrounding her eyes. This eye surround decoration has been interpreted as avian in nature and is found in other Mississippian Period art, typically associated with elite men, warriors, and mythic beings. The inclusion of this decoration may draw attention to another aspect of Earth Mother; her close association with the sky and the sun. Much like the rebirth of deceased souls, Earth Mother gives birth to the sun every morning, insuring the continuity of life on Earth. This vessel, just like the deity she embodies, exudes strength.

December 2014/January 2015

"Bathtub Man"/Effigy Vessel

Sarah Hatcher, Head of Programs and Education

Archaeological artifacts can be significant for a wide variety of reasons. They hold knowledge in the way that they are formed, in what they are made out of, and where they are found. But they also create memories. 

To the person that excavated and analyzed them they hold one set of meanings and memories, to the average visitor they may have an entirely different set of meanings or memories.

I chose this vessel as an artifact of the month because it reminds me that we all see the world in different ways, and that our memories are often tied to objects or places. One of the first tours I gave at the GBL included the effigy pots. Of all of them, this one elicited the most comments, with one child calling him bathtub man. This artifact’s new name spread through that group and apparently the rest of the school--other classes arrived asking about Bathtub Man. For the children at that school Bathtub Man wasn’t a piece of art or an artifact, it was new knowledge, a fun day, and a memorable experience.

While the children saw a man bathing and little more, trained archaeologists see a vessel made during the Mississippian Period (A.D. 1000-1500/1600), likely during the latter half of that time. This vessel is similar to ones recovered in Arkansas at Bell Place and Pecan Point, and was acquired as part of the McGuire/Lilly Collection.